Star Spence in roving Dambusters role
Rotorua Daily Post
13 Jul, 2009 05:00 PM
There's no doubt Matthew Spence's footballing career has brought him full circle, back to its starting point on the southern shores of Lake Taupo.
A talented teen, Spence made the New Zealand under-17 selection while playing for the Turangi Dambusters, the Bay of Plenty District Rugby League's southern-most affiliated club.
Now, almost half a lifetime later, Spence is back in the Dambusters' colours after a speckled career which saw him play 68 games in Australia's NRL with Parramatta Eels (1995-98), Western Suburbs (1999) and finally the Warriors in 2000.
Injury plagued the second-rower's top-flight fortunes and he will always be remembered as the first player to be dealt with under the NRL's new drug policy. He earned a nine-week stand-down in 1999 for failing a pre-season test which showed remains of recreational drugs.
Those highs and lows are certainly well behind the quietly spoken 33-year-old, who has been acting as a player/coach for the Dambusters in the Bay of Plenty premier competition this year.
Working with youth is his vocation now. He's a solo father of two boys aged under 7 and many of his football side are teenagers.
"Football and a bit of hunting, that's the main reason I moved back home, just to relax a bit," Spence said shortly after his side's 36-14 loss to Pikiao in Rotorua on Saturday.
"I kept away from football when the kids were young but now they're playing junior football."
Spence has been back in Turangi since he retired from professional football just over seven years ago but he still displays the nose of someone who has played at the higher levels.
On Saturday at Puketawhero Park in Rotorua, he played a roving second rower-cum-standoff role and helped his side stretch play-off bound Pikiao for 80 minutes.
Spence scored a try and delivered a sweet offload for Aden Hetaraka to get their second while centre John Paul Thompson crossed for their third.
Pikiao were never in danger of losing the game but they will certainly have to lift their efforts during this weekend's play-offs if they are to survive past their sudden-death semifinal against Forestland in Tokoroa next week.
Pacific will travel to Rotorua to play Ngongotaha and decide who goes straight to the grand final.
Turangi can only look to next year after a trying season during which they won only one match but showed stickability in showing up each weekend and taking on the better sides.
Spence will be back at the helm next year, although he hopes his role will be a little different.
"We started off with good numbers, but once we got to the middle of the comp, a few dropped off. But now I've got a few good young fellas who are sticking around," he said.
"Hopefully next year it just gets better ... I'll be playing again hopefully not as much on the field but more coaching."
"Just a bit hard when we don't get the numbers to training ... there's plenty of players around but it's hard to get them interested and having something for them to play in."
Many Bay premier teams ache to return to a serious league such as the former combined Waikato, Coastline and Bay of Plenty competition (WaiCoa Bay) but Spence has reservations.
"For a team like Turangi it wouldn't be a benefit for us. We're struggling with funding and travelling at the moment and there's more travelling there."
He'd like to see a mixed competition which provides an avenue for all clubs to play.
"Like how the [local] season was this year a bit shorter, then go into WaiCoa after it for maybe the top two or three teams in each area, that way it gives everyone a good competition to play in."
* Bay of Plenty District Rugby League results
Pikiao 36 (Jeremy Gardiner 2, Rob Komene, James Ryan, BJ Raroa, Matene Simein, Hauauru Morgan tries; Reece Hohepa 3, Jermaine Muagtutia goal) Turangi 14 (Matt Spence, Aden Hetaraka, John-Paul Thompson tries; Timothy Tama goal) HT 16-4.
Pacific 34 Forestland 26.
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